How many holes in a life before it falls apart?
In mine, they seem so great in number that one false step could send me tumbling straight to hell. A different kind of hell, at least, than the one where demons perch upon one’s shoulder.
Ironic, no? Of all the things I feared when accepting this life, boredom I think ranked last on my list. Yet what else could one call it, this clinging sense of resignation that gnaws at the skin, that has permeated every pore of me until I feel sick with futility. It hardly helps that I am surrounded by fools, deaf and blind to what little clues I can give. Or perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps their foolishness is all that keeps my own ego afloat, and I should kiss their feet in gratitude.
It would be easier if I weren’t alone. In the past, there was always companionship to be found; if not with a friend, then at least for a night’s comfort in a lady’s arms. And at the end, of course, there was Vir. Vir, who somehow managed to fill every void in my hearts, even those that I did not know existed. Except, inevitably, the one left by my Adira… though the Maker knows the boy didtry.
Perhaps more than the talking, I miss the little things: bickering over who had better taste in music, hungover breakfasts of jála and toast, the casual closeness that we had. Dear gods, I must have poked and pinched and patted Vir a million times over! Surely he thought me insane at first! I never realized before how often I touched him, how much I needed the certainty of that touch.
How I crave anytouch, any company right now. Loneliness is a cruel bedmate, you know. It makes us act in ways we do not want to. Like how I nearly laid hands on a woman today.
Oh, it was nothing shocking, or in any way inexcusable - yet the ease with which it happened sobered me like little else could. I had gone for a walk in the gardens, and something about her made me freeze in my tracks. Desire had nothing to do with it. If anything, it was the manner in which she raised her face to me, without a hint of reservation. Before I knew it, my hand hovered a mere inch from her crown, and it took all the strength I had to pull away and walk past her. The worst of it was that she smiled as I did so, while I could have screamed at my own weakness.
Only afterwards did I understand. Her eyes held that same innocence I once saw in Vir’s, before my actions drained it out of him.
At night, at least, I do not mind the solitude. It is only at night that I open the windows, to find the only companion left to me. The motions are so familiar by now that my body goes through them unbidden: curtains, panes, latches, shutters, I unpeel them as feverishly as one would a lady’s dress, aching to bare the world beyond. And she isa lady still, my Centauri Prime. Watching her in starlight, unblemished by the scars that disfigure her by day, I can almost see the future I am fighting for.
Time, however, is no longer on my side. I can feel in my bones that I am fading, as all things are – especially those that most deserve to remain whole. Or perhaps it is just that my eyes have become weary. Perhaps there are still pinpricks of light to be found, but I simply fail to see them.
It is not just hope that slips from me. The visions of my death, the ones that haunted me for years, have all but stopped, and I find that I almost mourn them. Some nights I lie awake and grope for them in memory. How cruel, that they would be taken from me just as I start to grasp their meaning.
What I am sure they mean is this: death, when it arrives, will be a comfort rather than a curse. I admit that some nights I am selfish, and wish for that comfort to be delivered to me sooner. But then I think of Vir, burdened with his own destiny, and I know I should hold out for as long as I am able. He is much stronger than one would give him credit for, stronger in a way than I have ever been. And to think that I once believed him incapable! How I hope that he will be all right in the end, that the future he longed for is still within reach. A wife, a home, a chance for happiness: such small things, and yet... It is a future I cannot grasp right now.
Among those drying husks of dreams, one face has clung to me the longest. What irony, that I would miss the sight of him in my nightmares; a fact, I am sure, he would find most amusing. For me to be desperate enough to wishfor his company, to have him strike me about the head once more with volleys of self-righteousness… well. I must be in dire straits indeed. Yet lately I find I cannot quite recall his features, and his name has begun to taste strange to me.
It is madness to long to see him again.
Great Maker, it has happened. I have finally gone insane.
The thought grinds to a halt in a haze of panic, cutting my limbs out from under me. The next thing I know, the throne presses into my back while I sit panting gracelessly, hands without purchase on the polished gold sides. That I spent the past half-hour drinking hardly serves to prop up my dignity. It is a pitiful display, quite unworthy of an emperor, yet at this point I cannot be bothered to care. What I docare about is the shadow in the doorway, which would in fact look perfectly normal in these surroundings, yes, perfectly normal at all – were it not for the Narn following behind it.
A delusion. The truth. A delusion. My fingers pluck at the velvet as if it were a flower, nerves screeching denial. How gloriously prophetic, that my madness would take such a shape. I have half a mind to pretend it is real; to get up and have a talk to him, ridiculous as it seems. But then he bows, with just that hint of irony, and pretense becomes utterly redundant.
He hasn’t aged a day.
“G’Kar,” I breathe, and now I feel old as well as shaken. With effort, I push myself up from the throne, head swimming as the brivari reasserts its presence. I am dimly aware that I should be making some display of welcome here, should at least attemptto act reasonable, but what comes out of my mouth sounds more like the monosyllables of a stroke victim than the gracious words of a monarch.
“G’Kar, you fool… why did you come back?” My posture is nearly as cramped as my voice, and I struggle to snap them both back into shape. “Which part of ‘you should not be here’ is so hard to comprehend? It isn’t safe here, I said, so–”
He huffs – a rush of history – and I almost feel like my old self again.
“Please, Mollari; should I defend myself now for coming to visit you? This is a free universe, is it not?”
I am tempted to ask him precisely what is free about it, but of course that would hardly be useful. Or wise.
He takes another step towards me, cheeks curving into the driest of smiles. “It is good to see you, too, Londo.” His mouth closes uneasily around the first name, and I startle at the sound of it. “Even when you are rambling. I should have known a life of luxury would fail to mend that habit of yours.”
Life of luxury. So he does not know. Thank the Maker for small mercies, at least. My Keeper stirs in its brivari-drenched haze, settling down again to the thumping of my hearts. A breath, and then another, burst from my lips in quick succession, as I realize I am not getting nearly enough air.
“My habits?” I manage. “And what old vices have you indulged in, hmm, gallivanting around the galaxy with a woman in tow?” There is a sweetness to the banter that nearly pulls me under, and it is all I can do to keep my voice from cracking.
The gleam of his good eye gives him away. He knows something, then. The flicker is gone before it truly registers, but I’d swear I saw concern in there. That in itself is sufficient cause for worry; trust G’Kar to come bursting in on a mission of rescue, only to find it is his own life that needs rescuing.
I decide then and there not to let him out of my sight. How I will manage that, though, is something else entirely.
“I must admit, G’Kar,” I go on, cautious, “I was rather surprised when Vir told me about your… departure. Somehow I did not believe you the type to – what is it the Earth people say? – ‘go off quietly into the night’.”
He blinks but otherwise ignores that last comment, instead latching on to what I said before. “About Vir.”
“Hmm?” I frown, halfway into lowering myself back on the throne.
“Vir Cotto." He cocks his head, as if checking if I am still in possession of my senses; something tells me he is not much convinced by what he sees. “I met him a little over a week ago, stopping over on Babylon 5 on my way to Minbar. He seemed concerned about you; told me you were having a difficult time… ‘adjusting to the balance of power’, I believe is how he put it. I came to see if he was right.”
Vir. Great Maker – all those years, and he stilll hasn’t given up on me. It was inevitable, I suppose, that he would speak to G’Kar, though I cannot quite picture the scene in my head. They were never truly friends, those two; respect had a way of keeping them apart, rather than drawing them closer. I wonder what they talked about, when they were not too busy fretting over me. The fretting, I am sure, is what brought them toghether – for of course G’Kar is as guilty of that as Vir, much as he would hate to say it aloud.
For the first time, I look at G’Kar – truly look at him – and notice he is not quite as young as he appeared. Not that he’s aged, exactly… But there are lines in his face that weren’t there before, lines of joy and sorrow both, and I wonder if beneath them he is still the man I knew.
Frowning, he takes a step closer to the throne, as if seeing me for the first time as well. “You’ve changed, Mollari; something happened to you. What –”
“Changed for the better, yes?”, I interject, wanting suddenly nothing more than to draw a laugh from him. “Good liquor ripens with age, does it not?”
“Oh, naturally,” he retorts, picking up the gauntlet with proper grace, “Unless, of course, it was old to begin with; then it will only go to waste.”
We do not laugh at that, although it was a decent try. I am actually surprised when he moves in closer, stepping over the awkwardness as if it weren’t there.
“Dear G’Quan, listen to me… And to say it was youwho once talked too much.”
His hand comes down to settle next to mine, and I know that there is nothing to it, that I should just toss back a chuckle to match his own, and all will be as it was. Yet my eyes remain drawn to that gloved wrist, the merest sliver exposed of the skin. Another inch, and I could be touching him.
I can hardly believe when he beats me to it.
He is asleep now, his breathing harsh yet oddly soothing, shuddering through my bones like bursts of rain. The sleep of the innocent, or of the damned, I wonder?
My head aches dully, courtesy of the two now-empty bottles lying discarded on the floor. The pain, of course, is a trifle to me. If anything, I relish it, knowing that my Keeper – who is, by now, as wide awake as I am – is affected by it just as much. I indulge for a moment in that sweet knowledge, before I let myself be distracted by Narn arms and palms and fingers splaying across my side. For some reason, I have turned my back on him while sleeping, and the thought of this fills me with sadness.
Still, it is fitting. For if he is to live, I mustturn from him, as I have turned from anyone unfortunate enough to have touched my heart. As I had to turn even from Timov, from whom in my most fanciful dreams I had not expected such folly.
My memory must be slipping again, draining from me what little remains of last night. Were it not for G’Kar lying beside me when I woke, I might not have recalled anything. Even now, as I try to knit together those brief, disjointed flashes, it feels rather like snatching at leaves in a storm.
I remember him helping me up from the throne: a strangely intimate moment, made more intimate by the hand pressed into my back, and I still reeling a little with surprise. Then the walk towards my chambers, which he entered with me without asking permission. From the way he held my eyes, I could tell that he was shaken: by my age, my weakness, the fight that appeared to have gone out of me. He came to me, I think, believing he could make a difference. But as the hours passed, and I poured out brivari with increasingly unsteady hands, I saw him understand the hopelessness of it.
I remember that we talked for a while, sad and serious words that are lost to me now, words in which I could only hint at what was wrong, though I think he saw through all of them. How we were seated first on opposite sides of the table; then, suddenly, found ourselves shoulder to shoulder on the couch. How, in that mild, insufferable way of his, he said:
“Take off that dress, Mollari. Truly, white isn’t your colour.”
At first I laughed, sure he was joking. Then I saw in his face that he was not.
For a moment I think I wept, although I cannot now be certain when. Surely it was not when my voice faltered at his touch; or when his fingers sought and fondled my throat, lightly squeezing my breath into ragged gasps. Neither was it when he leaned in to close the distance; nor after that first, heady crush of mouth on mouth, which swept away any thought I might have had of being shocked.
It was only as he reached to unbutton my coat, the warmth of lust stirring within me while my Keeper stirred without, that I was shocked, though at no one but myself, for failing to anticipate this outcome. Two bottles I had emptied; two jewels filled with sweet escape. Yet it was waking now, my constant companion, clumsy and bloated and ruthless with alcohol, to slip tendrils of glee into my thoughts. Perhaps that is when the tears started, or else after I drew his hand away, knowing while I did that he would not fight me.
In the end, the buttons remained unopened. Instead we lay together like old lovers, embracing fully clothed atop the sheets.
How quaint, I think, meeting hard Drakh eyes. How utterly pointless, that he should keep his voice so quiet, the grey-scaled face so empty of expression, while in my mind he sets his fury loose.
That he would be furious is hardly surprising. In fact, I wanted him to be, if only to remind myself that my actions still have meaning. Oh, there will be punishment; of that I have no doubt. But I will feel nothing of it, nothing at all, because somewhere between here and Minbar, a small craft is hurtling into safety, carrying with it all of my hopes.
“You allowed him to leave.”
I almost smile as I feel the pain setting in. “He knew nothing. I told him –” Breathe, Mollari. Just breathe. “– nothing. He held no interest for you, I assumed.”
The agony swells in the wake of his anger, distracting me for just a moment. But there is nothing to it, really. No taste of blood on my lips, not the bursting of my hearts inside my chest. Nothing but skin and skull and bones and eyes – garnet eyes, uneven in the darkness – and a name and face that are strange to me no longer.
This was it, I think, the height of our intimacy. This close we’ve come, no closer, until the very end.
In the end, of course, there will not be a handwidth between us; not enough space to even draw breath.